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Thailand: Progressive voters disillusioned about the future

Tommy Walker in Bangkok
August 29, 2023

After Thailand's progressive election winner was blocked from forming a government, voters in Bangkok told DW what they expect for the country's political future.

People in raingear holding umbrellas at a protest
Move Forward supporters gathered in protest after their winning candidate, Pita Limjaroenrat, was blocked in parliamentImage: Jack TAYLOR/AFP

Last week's appointment of Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin followed three months of post-election turmoil that saw runner-up Pheu Thai Party at the head of a governing coalition.

The May election was seen as pivotal for Thailand, with the country's recent political history marred by coups and demands for reform.

Thailand's political system was under military control from 2014 to 2019 following a coup led by army general Prayuth Chan-ocha. Starting in 2020, the country was rocked by protests calling for several democratic reforms, including amending the role of the monarchy in the country's politics. 

The 2023 election saw a record-breaking turnout of over 39 million voters, and the progressive Move Forward Party, led by Pita Limjaroenrat, won by campaigning on a platform of change.

An orange campaign stage with Pita Limjaroenrat waving
Move Forward's Pita Limjaroenrat was blocked from becoming prime minister, despite winning the election Image: Julian Küng/DW

However, even after winning the election, Move Forward was blocked by conservative lawmakers in parliament from appointing a prime minister over its pledge to amend the strict lese majeste law, which mandates prison time for defaming the king, his immediate family or the regent.

Second place Pheu Thai then cut off Move Forward and formed an 11-party governing coalition with parties that include their military-aligned archrivals.

Former real estate tycoon Srettha now leads a coalition government that does not include Move Forward. The party has said it will operate as an opposition party, and decried the coalition deal as having distorted the election result while ignoring the will of voters.

Move Forward voters in Bangkok speak out

Move Forward's election campaign pledges included military reforms, economic revival and combating corruption. Their youthful appeal endeared the party well to Thailand's younger generation, with orange-clad rallies and social media campaigns.

The party won 32 out of 33 constituencies in Bangkok, and voters in the Thai capital expressed a mix of disappointment and resignation that it had been blocked from forming a government.

Chonticha, a stall owner in Bangkok who only gave her first name, said her entire family voted for Move Forward. She told DW that she believes the majority of voters have been treated unfairly.

"I think that is inappropriate because most of the population chose Pita," she said. "I think Srettha has been selected to be a prime minister out of the blue, it's unfair."

A woman in an apron smiles
Food stall operator Chonticha said the new governing coalition is an 'unfair' outcome Image: Tommy Walker

Another Bangkok voter who only gave one name, Narongrit, said he feels "so-so" about the new government.

"I'm not expecting it to be better. I hope there is no corruption. I think the new government and [Srettha] is an expert for the business. I hope it will be better."

Bam, an engineer who lives just outside of Bangkok, told DW using his first name that the election result showed that the people's choice of government means little.

A man in a 'Grab' jacket and a motorbike
Voter Narongrit said he hopes the economy will improve Image: Tommy Walker

"It just proves that the votes from the people in Thailand mean nothing because the person who got the most votes didn't become Thailand's new prime minister. It's sad for the people and sad for the country," he said.

Another voter in Bangkok who declined to be named told DW that the changes promised by Move Forward would have revitalized Thai politics.

"If the old people stay the same, Thailand cannot change. I want Pita to lead the new government. He is the new generation to make Thailand change in a better way," he said.

Economy weighs on voters' minds

Rising living costs and consistently high household debt made the Thai economy a key election issue. This prompted political candidates to promise higher wages, better jobs and subsidies as part of their campaigns.

Economic growth in Thailand for 2022 was slower than anticipated following the COVID-19 pandemic. Forecasts for 2023 are predicted to see a 3.5% growth, although risks for decline include the recent political instability and droughts in Southeast Asia caused by climate change, which has hampered local farmers and Thai exports.

One voter, who identified herself as "Pet" and works at a utility company, said she expects Thailand's economy and infrastructure to improve.

"I still have hope for Thailand. if we have a real democracy, we can make our country better. If we don't have corruption and we allocate our budget properly, Thailand will develop more and more," the 24-year-old told DW.

Chawadee Nualkhair, a Thai-American author and food blogger in Bangkok, echoed the need for Thailand to invest but insisted democracy needs to be ensured.

"Any place, including Thailand, can become a full democracy whenever free and fair elections are held. I think this will increasingly be of interest to everyone, since foreign investment tends to favor places with transparent political and economic systems," she said.

Edited by: Wesley Rahn 

Tommy Walker
Tommy Walker Reporter focusing on Southeast Asian politics, conflicts, economy and society.@tommywalkerco